SA malaria cases and deaths on the decline, says Zweli Mkhize

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  • There has been an 88% drop in malaria cases in SA
  • Deaths caused by the disease have declined by more than 92% in 20 years 
  • Although the country is doing well, there are still challenges to overcome 

The number of malaria cases in South Africa decreased by 88% from 2000 to 2020, according to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

The minister adds that the country has also seen a decline in deaths caused by malaria by 92% – from 459 in 2000 to 38 in 2020.

Mkhize was speaking at the Goodbye malaria webinar on Thursday afternoon, held to commemorate World Malaria Day, which takes place on April 25.

He believes that South Africa may reach the zero malaria cases target set by the World Health Organization.

How to reach zero malaria cases

The country has three provinces where malaria is prevalent. The disease is a risk in parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal.

Although there has been an improvement in the fight against malaria, Professor Karen Barnes, the chairperson of the South African Malaria Elimination Committee, says that there are barriers that can hinder progress towards the eradication of the disease.

The challenges that Barnes cite include insecticide and antimalarial drug resistance, mobile and migrant populations, and community and healthcare worker perceptions.

"We need to reach the unreachable – those mobile and migrant populations that often have asymptomatic malaria. They are reluctant to seek treatment at health facilities, and yet they are contributing to ongoing malaria transmission," she says. 

Another challenge is the availability of treatment in the country.

"We've piloted the role of primaquine, which is the only drug that we have that's available to prevent ongoing malaria transmission. However, we need to scale up primaquine use. This has been difficult because it's not yet registered in South Africa, and manufacturers aren't keen on the small South African market," Barnes explains.

Great strides towards elimination

Barnes says that South Africa needs to scale up its tests and treatment for malaria, which may be hard, as current community healthcare workers are "limited to play a different role".

But she notes that the country has made great strides toward eliminating malaria. She says that these achievements make it feasible for South Africa to reach zero malaria targets.

"We are increasing case notifications of malaria within 24 hours; timely notifications mean timely action and a better chance of malaria control. This is further supplemented with weekly updates to all stakeholders. We are also getting better integration of notifications of malaria with other notifiable medical condition," she says. 

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